Readings on Sanctuary
by Fiona Heath
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” Joseph Campbell
We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been – a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free. Starhawk
When I was a kid, “sanctuary” meant only one thing. It was the big room with the stained-glass windows and hard wooden benches where my family worshipped every Sunday. Church attendance was not optional for my sisters and me, so that sanctuary was where I learned to pray — pray that the service would end, and God would release me back into the wild. I also learned that not all prayers are answered, no matter how ardent. Today, after 77 years of life in a world that’s both astonishingly beautiful and horrifically cruel, “sanctuary” is as vital as breathing to me. Sometimes I find it in churches, monasteries, and other sites designated as sacred. But more often I find it in places sacred to my soul: in the natural world, in the company of a trustworthy friend, in solitary or shared silence, in the ambience of a good poem or good music. Sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival. Today, seeking sanctuary is no more optional for me than church attendance was as a child.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew–knew–that we’re carrying the kingdom of heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look?
J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey.
I thought he’d run if he knew. Instead, he offered help, not that I believed he could possibly help. I thought he’d turn his back, close his heart, slink away. Instead, he promised sanctuary.
Ellen Hopkins, from Burned
A red fox walked through the clearing in front of me, wandering within 30 feet of where I sat. It passed through sniffing the ground, not seeming to notice me as I watched and marveled at the sight of it.
And then it faded away into the past year’s dried grass. Times like those were good times. This patch of wilderness brought me back to the areas of wilderness I spent time with during my childhood. Going to that place reminded me how sacred those small patches were. They were sanctuaries for life, for creation, for sanity.
So what was it that brought me to that spot at the time when the fox would share its presence with me? And was it the fox that made the strange call I heard when I first came to the place? What brought the leaf down from the tree above and caused it to land in the open spot between my left thumb and forefinger? Were all of those happenings merely coincidences, merely chance meetings of different life forms? Or was there a connection, was there meaning, a message to me telling me what I was called to do? Or was it that I simply enjoyed sitting there, observing, savoring; escaping the places that did not seem to fill me with the same sense of awe.
Small birds somewhere in the distant treetops sang a soft short song — a calling out, an experience of joy, a voice announcing a presence. A crow much further away cawed. The hum of the traffic masked the softer sounds, the more distant sounds. And vines enveloped the tree and the brush, below which I sat ruminating my life…
The time of reflection, serenity, and existence would not hold meaning if it was not shared through the interactions called life. Maybe what I needed to do was to not just focus on the fox, or the voice of the bird, but to pay attention to the brush, to the distraction, to the traffic, and the long grass that hid the fox. The breeze picked up, the sun receded behind a cloud, and I felt chilled. It was time to recede myself from that remnant of wilderness, time to return home to face the distractions of my life, time to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and find what I sought.
In fact, stop everything.
Get rid of all the Stuff,
even religion itself.
Shut down the hubbub.
Enter into the stillness
at the heart of everything,
the Sabbath that is the real temple,
the silence that is God.
Don’t run in the sanctuary,
you can’t hear the silence when you’re busy.
There’s no substitute for stillness.
The offering God desires is your presence.
and wait upon the Beloved.
Breathe. This is the holy of holies.
Destroy the temple of doing
and let the temple of being
rise up from within.
Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.
Rachel Naomi Remen
As a storm of digital dispatches hammered at the wall of my computer screen, I found myself desperate for sanctuary. I wanted a long and empty wooden desk where I could get some real work done. I wanted a walk in the woods with nobody to meet. I wanted release from the migraine-scale pressure of constant communication, the ping-ping-ping of perma-messaging, the dominance of communication over experience.
The idea of sanctuary as a sacred place of refuge is returning to our hectic, noisy world. In medieval times a sanctuary was a place for a fugitive on the run to seek safety and be immune from arrest. The word itself is derived from the old French ‘sanctuaire’, implying safety, and the Latin ‘sanctus’ meaning holy. Now, in the 21st century, we are re-establishing this idea of sanctuary in relation to nature and wildlife reserves, spiritual retreats and even with the successful City of Sanctuary movement that is building a culture of hospitality for refugees in UK cities such as Bristol, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds.
We can extend this idea of sanctuary into our own homes by setting aside a space where we can contemplate and be still. With the increased pressures that technology is placing on society through smartphones, email and social media, isn’t it desirable that in the future each home might include a safe haven or a dedicated corner into which we could withdraw, however briefly, from the constant electronic intrusion?
Here, we’re not talking about a retreat from the world or a disengagement from the issues of our time – there is sometimes a criticism of spiritual seekers implying they are impractical or remote. What we’re talking about is an engaged spirituality, based on a recognition that slow, quiet time spent in deep silence will help to heal the world from its obsessive materialist nature.
No one leaves home if the hurt that will come is greater than the hurt that they will leave behind. No one leaves if the ocean will swallow them up. No one leaves home, if there is peace. As a refugee there is only ever half of you in one place; because you have left of you where you have come from, and half of you is rejected where you arrive.
Here are just a few benefits [of sanctuary]:
• Sanctuary makes space — exterior and interior — for my soul to catch up with my body.
• Sanctuary helps me to let go of my need for my identity to be tied to performance or productivity.
• Sanctuary is a place where I feel at home in my own skin.
• Sanctuary is a place where I know I am grounded. It connects me to this place and this time.”
Everyone is asleep
There is nothing to come between
The moon and me.
“Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.” Rachel Naomi Remen
In UU World magazine, three articles highlighting American congregations who are joining in the sanctuary movement to protect immigrants from prosecution.
A personal essay on Wild Sanctuary from Tom Jablonski at On Being.
Yes magazine devoted an entire issue to the idea of sanctuary for immigrants.
March 29, 2019
March 01, 2019
December 24, 2018